What have we learned about contractors during COVID-19?

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Just over a year since the first Coronavirus lockdown has given us an opportunity to look back on a very challenging twelve months for contractors and businesses in general.

Last year, multiple lockdowns led to economic uncertainty which meant many firms placed their contractor hiring plans on hold. In worse cases, businesses had no choice but shut their doors completely.

Needless to say, this impacted the demand for contractors. That said, as entrepreneurs, contractors are accustomed to uncertainty, and in the face of this crisis, the independent workforce has certainly shown its resilience.

But what else have we learned about contractors during Coronavirus? Just how hard has this dynamic sector of the workforce been hit? And have the government really done enough to support people working this way?

We asked over 2,300 contractors these questions (and plenty more), as part of our annual contractor survey in 2020 - here’s what they told us.

Pandemic takes its toll but contractors remain resilient

If there’s one statistic to take away from this article it’s this: 72% of contractors plan to continue working this way for the next three years at least. This is despite most contractors reporting that their business had been negatively impacted by the pandemic, which led 66.2% to cite concerns over their financial security. In contrast, just 3.4% said they have experienced an upturn in business.

What does the above tell us? Contractors have had a difficult time, with 64.5% losing at least one contract. But even so, the vast majority are determined to carry on working independently for years to come.

As one contractor explained:

COVID-19 and IR35 will have an impact on the market in the short term, but ultimately end-clients still need projects delivered. Their businesses will not stop working, just that the landscape will be different.

Low uptake in government support raises important questions

Much has been made of whether the government’s Coronavirus support packages go far enough for contractors and the millions of other people working through their own limited companies.

Our findings support this. Two thirds (65.9%) of contractors said they hadn’t applied for any support from the government - whether through the furlough scheme or by applying for government-backed business loans.

That most contractors had lost business due to the pandemic but still didn’t place themselves on furlough or apply for government-back business loans raises an important question: is the support tailored towards the needs of contractors? Arguably not.

Contractors show generosity in challenging times

Financial difficulties haven’t stopped contractors from supporting charitable causes - and you could even say that in the past year independent professionals have shown their true colours. For example, 56% have donated to charities or volunteered during the pandemic.

To conclude, what can we take from this insight as we look to life after lockdown? We asked our Technical Commercial Manager, Joanne Harris, who has supported contractors for over 10 years, to share her view:

Contractors, like most businesses, have been hit hard by the Coronavirus pandemic. But where bigger companies receive significant help from the government, independent professionals have received very little support. Nonetheless, and despite the uncertainty caused by the crisis, contractors are resilient, with most determined to carry on working for themselves. As the UK faces up to huge economic challenges, the flexibility and talent of the contractor workforce will be vital.

For the full picture and to receive a free copy of the ClearSky Contractor Survey, which also explores IR35 reform and much more, please request a callback and one of the team will be in touch.